Half of SA’s para surfing team at risk of pulling out of world champs due to lack of funding

Half of SA’s para surfing team at risk of pulling out of world champs due to lack of funding
Caleb Swanepoel competes on day one of the SA Para Surf Championship, in the above-knee stand division, in which he took first place. (Photo: Greg Chapman)

Athletes are required to cough up about R70,000 to compete in the World Para Surfing Championships in the US next month.

Several members of South Africa’s para surfing team have withdrawn from the International Surfing Association (ISA) World Para Surfing Championship because of a lack of funds. The event is scheduled for 5 to 11 November.

Initially, 15 South African athletes qualified for the event in California, but seven have had to withdraw.

“We started off with 15, we’re now looking at going with eight, and it’s because of what you’ve got to pay,” Anne Wright, vice-president of Surfing South Africa (SSA), told Daily Maverick.

Athletes “are dropping like flies” out of the tournament, she said.

Athletes are expected to pay about R70,000 for all their expenses on the week-long trip to America.

Wright will join the diminishing team as manager, facilitating correspondence between the ISA, officials and members of her team.

“Last year we had a smallish team that went away, but we brought back medals,” she said.

“We can’t send a full team because we don’t have a full team, but America, they run it because it’s right there. It’s in America. They have a huge team.

“They normally win but South Africa are competitive in that we do make a couple of the finals. So, we’ve got potential.”

para surfing

South African athlete Similo Dlamini celebrates with teammates after her heat on the first day of competition at the World Para Surfing Championship in Pismo Beach, California, on 5 December 2022. Dlamini, who was born without a right leg, was taking part in her first world championship, and was supported by a big – and noisy – contingent who huddled around her chanting and singing after she battled the foam for 20 minutes. (Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP)

Lack of funding

One of the athletes who have had to withdraw is Noluthando Makalima, who qualified for the ISA Para Surfing Championships after taking first place in the Prone 2 category at the SA Para Surf Championships in May.

The 34-year-old from Khayelitsha has represented South Africa twice before at the World Championships – in 2020 when she claimed a silver medal, and in 2022 when she placed fifth in her category.

We might be an elite sport but we don’t have millionaires surfing.

“It breaks my heart that I can’t participate. This year I wanted to come home with a gold medal,” the athlete told Daily Maverick.

On both occasions Makalima’s trip expenses were sponsored by an anonymous donor.

During previous World Championship events the Roxy Davis and MadeForMore foundations helped with expenses for many of the athletes.

According to Wright, both foundations withdrew from funding athletes this year at the “very last minute”, although she has asked for more to be done by national sporting bodies such as the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc).

“Surfing does not get funded properly enough from the government, the Department of Culture, Arts and Sport,” she said.

para surfing

South African athlete Similo Dlamini (right) and French athlete Emmunelle Blanchet compete in the women’s kneeling division on the first day of competition at the World Para Surfing Championship in Pismo Beach, California, on 5 December 2022. (Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP)

“We need more money, but so does every sport. With the adaptive team, there’s been two charities that have worked with them for the last few years. “In Durban the MadeForMore and in Cape Town there’s been the Roxy Davis foundation. And I think they’re tapped out, they’ve raised thousands to get these athletes away… It’s always in America so it’s always very hard because it’s expensive.

“These people have got to raise at least 60k and that’s hard. Sascoc says we’re an elite sport, but we might be an elite sport but we don’t have millionaires surfing.”

Adaptive surfer Noluthando Makalima won’t be able at attend this year’s World Para Surfing Championship due to lack of funding. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Sascoc responds

Para surfing falls under Swimming South Africa (SSA) as a federation, therefore the responsibility to pay for the expenses is SSA’s. It receives funding from the government.

Para surfing is currently not part of the Paralympic Games – while, conversely, surfing is part of the Olympic Games – so it does not receive funding from Sascoc.

“The problem with para surfing, it is currently not on the Paralympic programme,” Leon Fleiser, general manager of high performance at Sascoc, told Daily Maverick.

Noluthando Makalima rides a wave during the World Para Surfing Championships in California. (Photo: Supplied)

“Therefore it is not on our funding mandate because our money is going to para athletics, para swimming, para equestria, etc. Because we also don’t have a lot of money, we’re squeezing everything we can to try to qualify and prepare as many Paralympic athletes for Paris 2024.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Athletes ride the wave of the historic SA Para Surf Championships

“We did manage to help the able-bodied [surfing] side because we get development funding from the Olympic Committee for that, [whereas] we don’t get money from the Paralympic Committee for that.

“So, unfortunately we can’t assist para surfing right now. There is a big push to make para surfing a Paralympic sport, by the way … We have very strong para surfers in South Africa.”

Para surfing will continue to rely heavily on the funds donated by foundations – until the sport becomes part of the Paralympics – but when the funds dry up, like this year, many athletes will not be able to afford to compete internationally. DM

Disclosure: Janet Heard, Daily Maverick’s Day Editor, is a close relative of a participant representing Team South Africa at the World para-surfing championships.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Luckily we never run out of money for ‘officials’ and other ballast to swan around the world to attend events.

  • Shaun Slayer says:

    I’m thinking ‘ol squirrel can sell off a tank of his jet fuel, or maybe sell a buck to an Israelite and send it to SSA. 1 good thing he’ll be doing in his 30 years at the helm.

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